Metro Weekly

White Supremacist Gets 18 Years for Firebombing Church

Prosecutors alleged Aimenn Perry, who pled guilty to arson-related charges, attempted to burn down a church planning to host two drag events.

Aimenn D. Penny (left) protesting a drag event in Wadsworth, Ohio. – Photo: U.S. Department of Justice

Aimenn Penny has been sentenced to 18 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for attempting to burn down a church that was planning to host two drag shows.

The 20-year-old native of Alliance, Ohio, was arrested last year and charged with one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials, and one count of possessing a destructive device.

On October 23, Penny pleaded guilty to the church arson hate crime and using fire and explosives to commit a felony.

Under sentencing guidelines, he could have potentially faced up to 20 years in prison for violating the church arson hate crime charge alone.

On March 25, 2023, Penny made Molotov cocktails and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio, according to court documents. Angered by the church’s plan to host two drag events the following weekend, Penny threw the Molotov cocktails at the church, hoping to burn it to the ground. The vandalism left scorch marks on the church’s door. 

While Penny was being interviewed by the detectives from the FBI Cleveland Field Office, he said that he wanted to “protect children” from being exposed to drag and targeted the church after being angered by “Internet videos of news feeds and drag shows in France.”

Prosecutors claimed that Penny is a member of White Lives Matter, an extremist group that allegedly espouses “racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.”

They also claimed he was previously identified by local law enforcement as one of several White Lives Matter members who were distributing propaganda flyers outside a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event in Wadsworth, Ohio. Prosecutors asserted that Penny attended the event “wearing military-style gear including camouflage pants, a tactical vest, and jacket with a patch showing a firearm” and submitted photographic evidence for that claim. 

Penny was housed at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. In April, less than a month after his arrest, the FBI intercepted letters and a “manifesto” Penny wrote in jail and attempted to send to fellow White Lives Matter members outside of prison.

“Penny showed no remorse, but only pride in what he had done, even bragging that he ‘was respected for it’ in jail,” prosecutors wrote. They also accused Penny of attempting to send letters to members of the Blood Tribe, a neo-Nazi group, urging them to commit violence at an upcoming drag event in Akron, Ohio.

While entering his guilty plea, Penny admitted to attempting to burn down the Community Church of Chesterland because “he did not like the way congregants chose to express their beliefs.”

In a sentencing memo, federal prosecutors noted that church burnings “have a long and sordid history in the United States.”

“Burning a church is as potent a symbol of hate as burning a cross on a lawn or leaving a hanging noose,” the memo reads. “When Defendant Aimenn Penny threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland, he joined this shameful history of hatred and attacked the heart of the local community, trying to intimidate and frighten those who disagreed with him.”

The Justice Department issued a news release announcing Perry’s prison sentence and condemning similar acts of violence against organizations and individuals for freely expressing their personal beliefs.

“Aimenn Penny will spend the next 18 years in prison because he committed crimes fueled by hate, attempting to burn down a church because its members supported the LGBTQI+ community,” U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko, of the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement.

“Hate crimes like Penny’s hurt not only the individual target, but the entire community, causing people to fear attack based on who they love and undermining the sense of safety within places of worship.”

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